Sunday, January 2, 2011

"Womanly Words, Manly Deeds"

Happy 119th birthday, J.R.R. Tolkien!

What is a four-letter word that ends in "K" and means "intercourse"? Talk.

Followers of this blog should know by now that if you want the kind of "good time" promised in countless public restrooms thoughout the land, don't bother calling that number--just reach for the works of that sultan of smut, J.R.R. Tolkien. Who was the first to give us sex between and an Elf and a Dwarf, eh?

As we saw in our last installment, Galadriel, in her role of Mysterious Lady of the Deep, Dark Forest, has been busily seducing the local Young Man Seeking His Fortune, the Young Man in question being Gimli son of Gloin. And she seduces him--in the very nicest sense of that somewhat disreputable word "seduce"--by speaking to him in his native tongue. Khuzdul is a secret language, never spoken around strangers; to learn it one must either be a Dwarf or be extraordinarily cozy with them. Even Gandalf must rely on Gimli "for words of the secret Dwarf-tongue that they teach to none," yet here's this Elf-lady, of all people, speaking words that prove (a) her respect for Dwarvish culture, (b) her excellent sense of timing, and (c) her desire to make Gimli feel good.

The scene of Gimli's encounter with Galadriel, up a tree without a grappling hook, is a sex scene and nothing less. Granted, there's no T & A: no one breaks a sweat, creates a fetus, incubates a disease, or mentions word one about con- doms. And the sensuality of the scene seems to have flown beneath the radar of most critics: despite a deep understanding of his work, even Ursula Le Guin--inheritor of Tolkien's mantle as Grand Master of Fantasy-- asserts in her essay "The Staring Eye" that "there's no sex" in the Lord of the Rings. Perhaps in a world where girls barely into puberty wear bombshell bras, it is unreasonable to expect people to recognize sexuality unless it's expressed Nicky Minaj-style. (Though I daresay there's plenty of folks who know more about the subject than I do, including the esteemed Ms. Le Guin.)

An image from Rolling Stone, slightly modified
Not that i'm knocking knockers here, but could sexual expres- sion have other, more subtle options? There must have been such options in Tolkien's day, even if men back then weren't supposed to talk about their own underwear let alone anyone else's, and women were sup- posed to lie back and think of England and not of orgasms. Yes, sexuality was suppressed during the Edwardian era, yet truth will out, and Tolkien--who grew up during the reign of Victoria the Virginal and Edward the Uptight, and who spent his adolescence under the care of a priest--got his ya-yas out anyway, through the medium of his writing. There's no escaping the erotic imagery of seduction in LotR, of one party sweet-talking away the other's resistance, of penetrating and being penetrated. Like Galadriel's beauty--or Gimli's--it's there to be found. If you're willing to find it, that is, and if you're willing to accept what you find when you do.

And if you want to make a hard and fast distinction between metaphorical/symbolic/sublimated/displaced lust versus what you'd see on RedTube, go right ahead. I'd only point out that without the metaphorical kind the more physical kind would never get off the ground, or on it. Neither we nor the Dwarves are animals: we don't go around smiffing each others' butts and then presenting. We need a bit of foreplay. And that almost always means . . . talk.

Note Islamist date-palm and crescent moon.
(The title of this installment is taken from the official motto of the great state of South Carolina. The words were originally chosen to be blatantly sexist, but let us be charita- ble. Afterall, words are deeds--as any politician or preacher will tell you--and deeds can relate to each other in a kind of syntax. So perhaps the good citizens of South Carolina are trying to tell us that the ideal human being is a hermaphrodite. Put that on RedTube and smoke it!)

Alright--after all this argument you're finally willing to accept the idea that there really is s-e-x in the LotR, that Tolkien had something to say about sexuality, and that for reasons cultural and personal he chose to say it in the language of the fairy-tale. But let's face it: his "sex scenes" aren't very . . . well . . . sexy. It's not as if they're, um, arousing or anything. If we're going to say that Tolkien is writing pornography, shouldn't we at least see a little cleavage?

Cleavage, you say? Very well! Rest assured, o reader, that at Welcome to Weird World what you want is what you get! But you might also want to be careful what you pray for. It's easy to forget that "cleavage" can be something created by the scrunching of a pair of breasts--or it can be something created by the slashing of a sword. . . .

to be continued

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